Is Live TV really dead?

18 February 2021

Today’s widely reported research claiming that “Live TV is dead” is bold and brash and attracts attention, but it is really true?

Today’s widely reported research claiming that “Live TV is dead” is bold and brash and attracts attention, but it is really true? Yes, there is some decline, and the way in which we watch content is adapting and evolving – but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater here. Let’s take a look at the UK market to test the theory. Total broadcaster revenue in the UK sat at £13.6bn in 2017 according to Ofcom, with broadcasters spending £7.5bn on content[1], much of this on live sports programming.

Ofcom also reported that “Nine in ten people watched TV every week in 2017”[2] and despite seeing some level of decline in viewing figures, nine in ten people is close to the entire population. We certainly cannot claim to call something nearly all Brits engage in ‘dead’ by any means. And although “Those aged 55+ accounted for more than half of all viewing in the UK”, the average life expectancy is 80 years old. That’s another 25 years of broadcast TV viewing for the solid customer base.

And live TV isn’t dead for younger viewers either, Love Island broke records this year by bringing in ITV2s biggest ever audiences[3] and plenty of live TV shows are still attracting viewers who need to be part of the conversation. If anything, Twitter hashtags and online spoilers have forced younger people back into watching live TV. Love Island was the most talked about show on Twitter in 2018, with more than six million tweets posted about the show,[4] and this desire to engage from younger viewers cannot be met in the same way without live TV.

Of course another huge factor in live TV’s resilience is the thrill of watching live sports. Sports fans are certainly not willing to compromise on the “live” element of matches and the popularity of HD sports channels are evidence that mobile and tablets simply won’t cut it for these customers. People want to know the score as it happens and celebrate (or commiserate) in the moment. According to Statistica 90% of fans are willing to pay for sports programming[5], and Google insights found that 80% of sports viewers are using multiple screens[6] to check scores, communicate about the matches or engage in other digital media. It seems then that perhaps live TV is not only alive and well but can coexist with the streaming world, if anything to only be improved by it.

Fewer UK TV channels are closing every year.[7] If TV truly were dead we should be seeing this number increase, with more and more TV Channels struggling to make ends meet. In fact, the broadcast model is a highly lucrative one, which is why it has been successful for so many years. While online streaming services struggle to bring in the revenue to support their content, traditional broadcasters are still showing signs of life.

It is evident that the way in which live TV is being consumed is changing, and traditional broadcast has started to become less popular – but it is by no means dead. The multi-screen nature of how we view content will provide new and exciting challenges for broadcasters going forward and potentially allow a huge increase in advertising revenues as our devices collect ever more data about us. But as we can see from ITV’s Love Island, the need for consumers to be part of the conversation and a constant fear of spoilers absolutely drives fans to be part of the live experience, and part of the discussion as it’s happening. Live TV isn’t dying, it’s changing, and we’re at the precipice of something exciting and amazing, maybe we shouldn’t be quite so willing to write off the medium that has brought us here.

[1] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/117065/CMR-handout.pdf

[2] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/117065/CMR-handout.pdf

[3] https://tellymix.co.uk/ratings/410987-love-island-ratings-see-itv2-record-biggest-ever-viewing-figures.html

[4] https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/love-island-beats-politics-tweeted-about-tv-show-2018/1521081

[5] https://www.statista.com/topics/2113/sports-on-tv/

[6] https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/consumer-insights/sports-fans-video-insights/

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_former_TV_channels_in_the_United_Kingdom


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